We jumped at the offer when Shanley and Jeremy from Apigee invited us to their hackathon at the Guardian's offices on Saturday the 18th of Feb. We had a great time and saw lots of teams using our APIs for various and quite different purposes. It's always a pleasant and sometimes amusing surprise to see what people can do with the content we've release.
We arrived and after the obligatory wifi connectivity issues, the show kicked off at about 11am. I setup a little corner from where I could record the event from, although the lighting offered it's own challenges
Vodafone kicked off with a preview of their upcoming api offerings with a number of location and mobile related services, secured using OAuth. Michel's story of the Vodafone journey and his desire to gather feedback resonated strongly with me as we are still travelling our own path and learning from many in order to improve the APIs we offer.
Prize for most interesting API, must go to Bet Fare. The idea of writing my own betting bot has intrigued me for some time and it was great to be given an overview of their API. Having spent many years working with SOAP web services at IBM and elsewhere, I know why SOAP isn't sexy but at the same time it is a well proven approach and some advantages over RESTful JSON APIs (burn me at the stake for herecy) but they are a bit more complex, nor are they particularly well suited for short mobile hackathons… If I can find some down time I quite fancy having a play with these APIs, but perhaps with a prepaid credit card to avoid massive losses !
Phill from Pusher
Mark from Betfair
A number of other API providers were there including Phil from Pusher, Terrance from inMobi. Our slot was the last slot of the day, I had the feeling that most developers were keen to get away and start coding so kept well within the 6 mins we had been allocated to talk about our APIs. As a special treat, we also took along previews of our Kitchen Manager and other other APIs and hoped to get some feedback on them from any devs brave enough to give them a shot. As usual for these things, all throttling was lifted for the duration.
Debbie joined me later in the afternoon and helped choose whom we'd award the Pearson API prizes to, which turned out to be quite a tough call as quite a few people used our APIs.
We spent most of the day talking to attendees, taking pictures, approving keys and fixing a couple of bugs on the website. There were great facilities, teams were able to break out into private small meeting rooms, or into relaxed open spaces… a really cool and nice vibe could be felt and people seemed happy to chat and help fellow devs. One team seemed to run an impressive sprint, complete with planned board !!!
(lovely food too)
Hacks and Hackers
We were really impressed with how much people managed to do in such a short time. Other hackathons I've been to last 24hrs or longer, these chaps only had about 7 hours code time and also had to write a presentation too. To be honest I was really surprised to see so many working entires.
Talk To Me
Provided a text to speech service using our Longman Dictionary API sound recordings. Was quite a fun idea, as Sam explained high quality text to speech services are very expensive and so he thought he'd see what it would be like if you used the library of pronunciations in the API to do this. Basically you just send a text message to his Twilio account, which then parses the text and then calls you back to play the audio it could find. A very amusing little hack (Sam managed two that day) as you could get it to say some rather rude phrases. Interestingly he discovered a limitation in that the dictionary didn't contain example pronunciations of some of the more simple words like big. We gave Sam the Pearson 2nd prize for his original and fun hack which demonstrated how others can take our api and do something completely different with it.
A team of spanish developers decided to use the Pearson Dictionary API to do an html5 game where by the user needed to guess a word in order to save cats from being burnt. They also used the Pusher, Twitter and inMobi apis. It was a fun use of the api, but sadly something when rather wrong in the closing moments and they were unable to show it working.
This team put together a football scoring app which allowed users to browse for football scores by drilling down by country->league->match. I don't recall them mentioning the API they used for this, but did make use of the inMobi api to add advertising into their app. It seemed quite functional and worked well. Quite impressive given the short time, but I'm afraid not one for me as I'm not a football fan (heretical statement #2).
coANDco feat. UoC
Interesting app which used location to find trending words in twitter for a given location, this was then used to search for music which contained lyrics that matched the trending words in order to produce a playlist in spotify.
Made use of the pusher realtime api to provide an interactive worm which people could use to vote on. The demo and app was flawless, as I'd expect from this team of top coders who were recently acquired by Pearson, and I really hope they put this app out so tech conferences everywhere can have worms… even thought it might be a little unnerving for presenters to begin with.
The idea here was to create an app to enable attendees and organisers to send event related messages at trade shows and conferences. Cool idea and could have been great, but unfortunately they couldn't get the front and backend stitched together in time to show it working. I liked this because although it could be done using hashtags in twitter, it wouldn't suffer the twitter bot spamming that affects popular events and could also have sub categories etc…
Now this I really liked… have too many bookmarks… can't find them and can't really remember what they were about. StashMarks allows you to search and see snips from your bookmarks in a very cool html5 looking app, Very slick hack and seemed to work really well. Really hope the chaps do turn it into a chrome plugin it would be a hit.
The UK Twilio devangalist was there and built a switchboard in his browser using a combination of pusher and the twilio apis.It worked really well and he demoed a couple of people calling in and being queued. It worked really well, you have to hand it to the chaps at Twilio, they have a great product and set of apis… if you need telephony in the cloud then these are the folks to use.
Mark built a ruby library for the Pearson Dictionary API which makes it really simple to play the pronunciation of words in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. He also built a heroku hosted site which demo'd it. He was also kind enough to package the library into a gem and for this we awarded him the Pearson API 3rd place. We'll be working with Mark and on his gem shortly in order to start building client libraries for our APIs. Thanks Mark, nice work.
Pan European Delight
A '20 questions' realtime game, using the Pearson and Pusher APIs. Seemed like a really neat idea but unfortunately they weren't able to get it working in time. Shame, would have been nice to see a realtime multiplayer game using our APIs
Used the open data apis to find what MPs have been debating in Parliament (based on transcripts) and then used google maps to allow you to drill into location specific mentions. I love the idea of this, see what MPs are up to and see which MPs actually do stuff - great for democracy and putting some faith back into the whole political system. Worked really well and I hope they go on and deploy this app.
Idea was to use the Vodafone, Pearson, Betfair and inMobi apis to provide a betting and location service for fans. For example, it could recommend a place for fans to meet and then offer a betting service on the upcoming game. Nice idea, but wasn't able to demo it due to some last minuet issues.
Grant Kemp (androidbloke.co.uk) and Robert Slama came up with a neat little app for android phones. Using the Vodafone apis it sent SMS messages to your or another person's phone. The SMS messages were taken from a couple of different sources, for example the Pearson LDCOE API was used to provide a WOTD service. They also used a web scrape to send romantic messages to your loved ones, since geeks are not generally known for the romantic musings The app worked perfectly and looked quite professional, added to a cool impress.js presentation made them one of the top teams of the day. We gave them out 1st prize for use of the Pearson APIs.
Spurred on by the comments that delicious is dead, or at least passé, Andrew started work on some perl scripts to retrieve his book marks and start the process of moving them elsewhere. Nice set of potentially useful scripts for anyone with an account, personally never got into sharing bookmarks so not one for me.
Don't Wake Me
Sam Machin's other entry was a tool that intercepted incoming calls and informed the caller what time it was in the location where the person currently was. Simple concept executed very well, it stops you being woken up at 3am by a colleague who didn't realise you were in San Francisco that week.